I have just returned from a trip to Israel. It is not my first time to visit the place that is, for a third of humanity, literally holy land. Israel is the crossroads for three great religions. Consequently the Holy Land has been coveted and fought over for centuries.

My first visit to Israel was in 1981 and some people cautioned me that it was an unsafe destination. I spoke with one man who had journeyed to the region every year for the previous 22 years. He told me, “Every time I am getting ready to go someone tells me I am crazy and will get myself killed.”

Since that conversation 34 years ago I have heard the same thing each of the more than two dozen times I have made the pilgrimage to the land of the Bible. I am sure I will hear the same thing next year when I return. But I have never felt uncomfortable or at risk and hundreds (maybe thousands) of others have told me the same.

Travel guru, Rick Steves said, “If you just read the headlines, a visit to Israel can be scary. For 1500 years Christians, Jews and Muslims have struggled over the Holy Land. The presence of barbed wire and armed soldiers is really nothing new. Invasions and political turmoil have been the norm now for 4000 years. In our generation, terrorists have left their ugly mark. But tourists or popular tourist centers have never been targeted. While there are still problems to be worked out, no angry group is angry at tourists.”

To be sure there is tension in the Middle East, not just in Israel, but many thousands of people visit the Holy Land (Israel, Jordan, Egypt) every year. While you hear a lot from the news media about violence in Israel, you never hear of tourists being the target.

Perception is reality but sometimes it is a false reality. While the media paints a picture of horror and hostility between the peoples of Israel, I have witnessed ordinary people- Palestians and Israelis, Muslims, Christians, and Jews- living together in a frustrating qaundry. And the request from persons of various ethnic and religious backgrounds is the same, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”

An acquaintance recently went with his wife and four children to Israel and Jordan over the Christmas holidays. His reflections on the experience included the following: “The politicians and fanatics, like in most cases, scream the loudest, but yet again, the silent majority needs to be heard more. We are all just about the same people-wanting to eat, drink, have shelter and be protected and ensure our children have a better life than we did.”

One of my fellow travelers from the most recent visit to Israel said, ” Everything we did brought me back to my strong Christian heritage and upbringing and has rekindled fires within me that, over the years, had dwindled somewhat.” Another called it “a trip of a lifetime.” Comments like these cause me to want to return to the Holy Land and take others with me.

Today is Holy Thursday, observed by Christians on the fifth day of the week leading up to Easter. It commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus Christ and his disciples. Tomorrow is Good Friday when we remember the death of Jesus who we call the Messiah. Then on Sunday Christians all over the world will celebrate the victory of life over death as we remember the Resurrection of Jesus.

One of those who just returned from the Holy Land said, “Easter will be even more incredible after our experience.” Yes, it will!

Jamie Jenkins

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